1998 Conference Proceedings

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Technology for the Visually Impaired: Hi and Lo-tech Strategies in the Classroom and on the "Classroad".

Elizabeth M. Perrotto
Ysleta Independent School District
Scottsdale School
2901 McRae Boulevard
El Paso, TX. 79925
Voice: (915) 598-2421
FAX: (915)591-9270

Arthur J. Borgemenke
El Paso Independent School district
Region 2 Special Education/Ross School
6101 Hughey Circle
El Paso, TX. 79925
Voice: (915) 779-5481
FAX: (915) 772-2564
Internet: borgemenke@compuserve.com

The choices of instructional technologies available for teachers of the visually impaired have never been more plentiful and more perplexing. Add to this the unique needs of the different service delivery models and the appropriate choices can become daunting. There is no more frustrating feeling than spending educational time using a technology that is abandoned in the general education classroom or unused in a special education placement.

Technology choices for the visually impaired range from simple slate and stylus to an IBM class multimedia computer loaded with a screen reader, optical character recognition software and a Braille transcription program. The job of the teacher of the visually impaired is to choose the appropriate technologies that will maximize the success of the student who is visually impaired in their individualized educational setting. The strengths and deficiencies of each educational setting and the requirements each technology has attached must be considered when designing the student's educational plan. Careful consideration of these needs can help reduce wrong turns down the technological road and the resultant poor expenditure of dwindling educational resources.

Each assistive device that is provided for a student who is visually impaired carries with it benefits and educational penalties. The benefits of a Perkins Brailler are obvious. The student uses this device much like a sighted peer uses paper and pencil or a typewriter. A laptop computer with speech capability allows the student to produce assignments with the same qualities as any other student. All assistive devices have some educational quality that is beneficial. The restrictions that each piece of equipment carries with it may escape notice until precious instructional time and money have been expended.

Technology, in the form of assistive devices, carries encumbering aspects in several different categories. These range from considerations over space requirements, portability needs, accessibility issues and possible negative peer reaction. The teacher of the visually impaired must take these into consideration when recommending the equipment.

Space is always at a premium on any campus. This would tend to support the itinerant model of providing services for the visually impaired, but it would be difficult if not impossible for the itinerant teacher to transport all the equipment that a student might require on a daily basis. The itinerant teacher might choose to leave the equipment at the students home campus, but then it would not be available for any other students use. When the equipment is on the home campus it needs to be transported from class to class by the student unless a personal aide is attached to the equipment. This is hardly the least restrictive environment. No student needs nor wants to be accompanied by an entourage which draws attention to their differences. This entourage of equipment and personnel interferes with the normal flow of classroom activities which can result in negative social feedback from classmates.

Resource room teachers of the visually impaired have the advantage of using one permanent site to provide services to their students. This allows the teacher to have multiple devices set up in dedicated locations. Students can choose from. a variety of assistive devices as the occasion warrants or the academic need arises. The teacher and student may explore new technologies as time permits on the resource room campus. The teacher for the visually impaired in the resource room situation is accessible on a consultative basis to the general education teacher and the mainstreamed student with a visual impairment consistently through the school day. This model also allows for functional use of the compensatory skill. In other words the student makes immediate educational use of the technology which makes the device valuable in the student's mind.

The resource room service delivery model sounds ideal for The student with a visual impairment, however, it is hardly the least restrictive environment in all cases. The student is removed from the neighborhood school that their peers attend. The student is transported to the resource room campus, often requiring extended travel time. The student then tends to have friends only at school and these friends may be limited to others who are also visually impaired. These social aspects must not be ignored. This becomes very apparent when the student returns to their home campus to continue their educational career. The student is faced with several dilemmas. They must adjust to a new campus and try to make friends at a very sensitive developmental stage in life.

An informal survey of technological preferences of both resource and itinerant teachers of the visually impaired yielded some interesting trends. The survey was taken by teachers in southern New Mexico and west Texas. Equipment mainstays such as CCTV's and thermoform machines are tending to fall from favor. They are being replaced by screen magnification software and tactile graphic enhancers. The slate and stylus seem to be going the way of the stone and chisel. Size, portability and multiple uses are tile characteristics that are required in cutting edge technology. Having said that, the Perkins Brailler is still a favorite means of writing by the functionally blind student.

The most interesting results were comments by most teachers regarding the need for individual student treatment. The teachers indicated that student needs must be considered and then the technology matched to those needs. This may indicate a lack of consideration of the negative aspects that the technology brings with it. Does this mean that the student is left to deal with these pitfalls on their own? This is hardly a desirable situation.

The answer may lie in an array of service delivery models being available for students. A spectrum of models insures that each student will have the appropriate technology available in the proper environment. The student will not have to squeeze themselves into a poor educational fit. The solution to the least restrictive environment puzzle is to ensure that all aspects of the assistive technology are considered before a student is placed and equipment is employed.

It must be remembered that the student and their educational technology plan are a total package. The benefits of each facet of the students educational program must be weighed against its inherent drawbacks. The most appropriate program may not be the one that has a student placed in a least restrictive model with the greatest number of cutting edge assistive devices. The reality of least restrictive environment often times flies in the face of convention. The most appropriate placement for a student with a visual impairment can include a mix of low and high technology in varying educational settings as the student's needs evolve.

"Foundations of Education for Blind and Visually Handicapped Children and Youth", (1986), New York, NY.

"Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness", (1984), Springfield, Illinois.

"A Teachers' Guide to the Special Educational Needs of Blind and Visually Handicapped Children'1, (1982), New York, NY.


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